Intel SSG Africa University Outreach: Creating Networks

The idea of Kenya as the 'Silicon Savannah' (or Digital Savannah, as some would argue) is one that has gained a lot of traction over the last couple of years. Tech is the one area in which many young Kenyans generally and Africans specifically see themselves as having a genuine chance of making it big both locally and internationally. The concept of tech as the 'great equalizer' is one that holds great sway, and, combined with Generation Y's desire to work in non-traditional structures and break new ground as captains of their own destiny, the allure of tech in the developing world is huge and undeniable.

It therefore makes sense for Intel to seek to tap into the potential of this group of individuals. Following a similar event at Strathmore University in August in which the Intel Codezone Student Ambassador Program was launched, the SSG organized an Intel Developer Day at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) on September 13, 2013. This Developer Day featured an app lab in the morning, followed by a talk in the afternoon by the iHub's Executive Director, Josiah Mugambi, and Intel's SSG Africa Lead, Agatha Gikunda to an audience of close to 300 IT students. The talk focused on exposing the students to what opportunities exist for them in tech in Kenya, and how they can take advantage of those opportunities by partnering with Intel and the iHub.

During an interactive session, the inevitable question of students being afraid to share their ideas because of the fear of those ideas being stolen came up. This issue has been brought up time and again, with a significant majority of students and tech entrepreneurs believing that they have to keep their ideas to themselves and guard them heavily in case they are appropriated by another entrepreneur or organization. While there is some truth to this, the problem with this approach is that there's very limited collaboration or idea-sharing among local tech entrepreneurs, which ultimately ends up hurting the industry on the whole as there is a proliferation of multiple similarly-themed concepts that could be strengthened considerably by working together.

To paraphrase this piece from Wired on how successful networks nurture good ideas:

Why would the same ideas have occurred to different people at the same time? Ogburn and Thomas argued that it was because our ideas are, in a crucial way, partly products of our environment. They’re “inevitable.” When they’re ready to emerge, they do. This is because we do not work in a sealed-off [environment]. The things we think about are deeply influenced by the state of the art around us: the conversations taking place among educated folk, the shared information, tools, and technologies at hand. 

When you can resolve multiples and connect people with similar obsessions, ideas flourish and multiply. Scientific journals and citation were a successful attempt to create a worldwide network, a mechanism for not just thinking in public but doing so in a connected way.

Today we have something that works in the same way but for everyday people: the Internet, which encourages public thinking. It’s now the world’s most powerful engine for putting heads together.

Failed networks kill ideas, but successful ones trigger them.

It is clear that the students have talent. Several of them already have apps that are in local appstores, with one of those apps having over a million downloads to date. The ability to create is not in question. In order to foster a better culture for developers to really thrive and build sustainable, profitable products, though, ways need to be found to push for greater openness and increased collaboration in spaces like these. Connecting the students to each other across both similar and disparate disciplines, connecting them to mentors, strengthening the power of networks to help their ideas really take root - this is perhaps how best to help this nascent industry grow. 

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